These past two weeks must have been frustrating for D.C. United.
With five matches in a tight stretch, three of them coming against presumptive playoff teams and three of them within the friendly confines of RFK Stadium, United played well enough to win four out of the five games. And yet the team is ending this compacted stretch with just five points.
The five-game stretch ended late last night with a 1-0 loss on the road against Real Salt Lake. United did well at creating chances and limiting the opponent's chances, but allowed a goal on a deflected cross that Will Johnson did well to put away, and couldn't put any of its numerous goal-scoring opportunities past Nick Rimando.
You see, earlier this season, I thought results like this would have been acceptable. The way the Eastern Conference was shaking out at that time, there were only five good teams. Playing fairly well but getting unlucky while averaging a point per game for a few stretches would only mean that we'd finish in fourth or fifth place rather than second or third.
Things are different now.
Now the Columbus Crew have extended the playoff race to six good teams rather than just five. And the Montreal Impact are challenging to make that number seven. Now we know that at least one above average team in our conference will be missing the playoffs.
How do we ensure that it won't be us? Finish chances. It's that simple.
The chances were plentify for D.C. last night, and that was a bit of a surprise while playing with tired legs against a good RSL defense. Chris Pontius actually had three Pontius Special opportunities, but put one wide of the goal, had another deflected, and took the final one with his left foot instead. Opponents have obviously done some film study on Pontius by now. It seems to have helped.
The film study on Dwayne De Rosario is less helpful, because he's still elite. De Rosario's long rocket ringed the post after Rimando did just enough with his fingertips to change the angle of the ball that was soaring goal-bound.
The congested schedule and sudden prominence of injuries deserve some blame too though. Lionard Pajoy had his best match so far for D.C., but he's not the type of player that can do a whole lot on his own, and De Rosario, Pontius, and Nick DeLeon weren't there often enough to help. Tired legs are a bitch. United could have had some good chances in the box too if they had a right back who could cross, but Brandon McDonald isn't Andy Najar. Tooth aches are bitches too, apparently.
United is thankful to have the chance to recoup now though, as a brief international break will prevent the team from taking the field again until Sep. 15 against the New England Revolution.
The August stretch wasn't what it should have been for United. Injuries, odd scheduling, good opponents - none of this worked in United's favor. September may be different though. The Revolution match begins a new stretch of five games against opponents who aren't projected to compete for the playoffs. If five points from our last five-game stretch was disappointing given our performance on the field, less than ten points from our next five game stretch might be equally disappointing.